June 2, 2015 / 10:35 AM / 2 years ago

Sudan's Bashir says wants dialogue with West as new term starts

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan is open to dialogue with Western nations, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said on Tuesday in an unusually conciliatory message from a leader wanted on genocide charges and whose country suffers under economic sanctions.

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir speaks to the crowd after a swearing-in ceremony at green square in Khartoum, June 2, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

Speaking at the start of a new presidential term that extends his quarter century in power, Bashir, 71, also appealed for national unity as he grapples with rebellions and dwindling oil revenues following South Sudan’s 2011 secession.

Sudan has long labored under a raft of U.N. and bilateral sanctions, including from the United States. Bashir also faces charges at the International Criminal Court that he masterminded genocide and other atrocities in his campaign to crush a revolt in the Darfur region. He has denied all the charges.

“Sudan will seek, God willing, and with an open heart, to continue dialogue with Western countries in order for relations to return to normal,” Bashir told parliament after a swearing-in ceremony attended by regional African and Arab leaders.

“I will be, God willing, a president for all. There is no difference between those who voted for us and those who didn‘t, between those who participated and those who boycotted (the election),” said Bashir, who first took power in a 1989 coup.

“This is a right guaranteed to all,” he told the lawmakers and foreign dignitaries including Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Political analysts responded skeptically to Bashir’s call for talks with the West.

“(He will have to) give up his old vision that brought him Western enmity because Western countries have firm positions on issues on which there is disagreement (with Sudan),” said Ahmed Hassan al-Jak, a professor at Khartoum University.

Such issues include respect for human rights and bringing the Darfur war and other armed conflicts to an end, he added.

Bashir won 94 percent of the vote in a national election in April, the first since Sudan saw its south secede in 2011, but it was boycotted by most of the opposition. His ruling National Congress Party won 323 of 426 parliamentary seats.

In his first decree since being sworn in, Bashir dissolved his cabinet and, in a rare step, also relieved the first vice president, the vice president and presidential advisers of their duties, the state Sudan News Agency said. He was expected to name a new government soon.

ISOLATION

Opposition figures have said the continued rule of Bashir has exacerbated Sudan’s isolation from global financial and political institutions.

U.S. companies are banned from doing business with Sudan, although China and other investors have been quick to make up the shortfall.

Bashir, who has kept a strong power base in the army and remains popular among many segments of the population, urged opposition parties in his speech on Tuesday to join a “national dialogue” he said would begin in the coming days.

He also renewed a general amnesty for armed groups who “truly desire to return and participate in dialogue”.

Sudan has faced a rebellion in its Darfur region since 2003 and a separate but linked insurgency in Blue Nile and South Kordofan since the secession of South Sudan in 2011.

Speaking to thousands of cheering Sudanese from a stage in central Khartoum’s Green Square, Bashir reiterated that Sudan was starting “a new phase” and promised economic prosperity.

“We promise you that we’ll work together to draw Sudan’s economy out of its plight,” he said.

Bashir’s Western critics complain of a crackdown on media, civil society and political opposition groups.

The United States has said the outcome of the April election does not amount to “a credible expression of the will” of the Sudanese given restrictions on political rights and freedoms. The European Union also criticized the conduct of the election.

Additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba and Ali Abdelaty in Cairo; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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